Although there have been moments when I have been more than happy with my own company I have to say the best moments in life have been, and still are, when I have been part of a "team".
These days the team most often takes the form of a choir. Last year the Rolling Stones performed live at Glastonbury for the first time. I say live despite the fact that some of the less flattering camera shots gave the impression of animated corpses using up energy rapidly at first and gradually slowing as the energy wound down. Proof positive that ageing baby boomers (a group of which I happen to be a member..) can continue to perform despite the passage of time. So, 2 or 3 times a week I find myself standing alongside compatriots trying hard to absorb a new tenor line.
Fortunately in the local choral Society there are some excellent singers who have been with the choir for a good number of years. Amongst the tenors are a 70 something and an 80 something, both of whom can still hit notes clearly, and with a repertoire between them that is impressive. So the tactic is to manoeuvre into a place in front of one of these maestros to pick up on awkward notes and tricky leads, especially when the tenor line is exposed (i.e. the only part singing).
Our last performance of Handel’s Messiah in the local church involved a final practice at 5.45 p.m. ready for the 7.15 start. Many of the loyal audience who turn out every year to listen to us have realised the value of turning up at 5.45 as well. They get a real insight into what is likely to go wrong, and a rich shared experience a few hours later as they check how well we fare.
This year, the soloists worked through a number of lines to get used to the ad hoc orchestra that gathers for the event. By 6.50, one of the four soloists had not arrived; the conductor seemed pre-occupied with the orchestra and it was left to the choir to speculate on how the performance would go, without a Contralto soloist. Needless to say there was a growing anxiety amongst a section of the ladies and, it seemed, a certain amount of speculation amongst the other 3 soloists. How could the part be shared out??
Fortunately, at 6.55, to considerable applause the final soloist arrived. Problem solved. Meanwhile amongst the tenor section I was having my own private misgivings. One of the two stalwarts was ill. The other stalwart was sitting so far back that front row dependants couldn’t hear him! This led to a frantic chair shuffling session in the few minutes between rehearsal and performance. One tenor arrived just as the opening chorus was about to start (having been held up o the M25), we took a deep breath and began what was to be a memorable sing – inspired no doubt by the level of adrenalin now flowing through our veins.
To hit a note at the moment you are supposed to hit it - accurately - and, to quote a well-known phrase "with one voice", is a moment to share. The hair does tingle on the back of the neck (just as well because hair seems to have deserted the rest of my head). To miss a lead, to lose a note here and there does not seem to matter, since the "team voice" keeps the music going and it’s great to experience the "team spirit" that invades any group activity when that activity is done well. A crisis does seem to help produce that team spirit.
I was once part of a 14 strong crew on a small "tall ship" sailing across the North Sea from Middleberg, Holland to the Thames estuary. As we left through the Dutch storm barrier winds started to pick up, a small rope snagged on a sail and skipper was rewarded with a wellington boot full of seawater as he freed the knot. Halfway across we were being treated to very large waves, force 9 gusts and a wind direction that pushed us north to Lowestoft. Next day we had to sail the extra stretch of East Coast, wet and tired, and yet the team spirit that banded everyone together was palpable. Singing, silly jokes, shared food all took on a different dimension.
Life can be especially rewarding when we have to struggle hard for a while – when we have to rediscover that "lost chord" of mutual dependence and rely on each other to succeed.
A banal conclusion I guess – true, neverless..